Belfast Telegraph

Monday 15 September 2014

Three journalists jailed in Egypt

The defendants during their trial on terror charges in a courtroom in Cairo (AP)

An Egyptian court has sentenced three journalists to seven years in prison each on terrorism-related charges.

Al Jazeera Australian correspondent Peter Greste, Canadian-Egyptian acting Cairo bureau chief Mohammed Fahmy, and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed were found guilty and sentenced today.

Mohammed was sentenced to three extra years in prison on separate charges.

The three were arrested in December as part of a sweeping crackdown on Islamist supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi.

The trio were accused of supporting Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood, which the authorities have declared a terrorist organis ation. They also faced charges of fabricating footage to undermine Egypt's national security and make it appear the country was facing civil war. The prosecution offered little evidence to back up the charges against them.

The journalists and their supporters have said they were simply doing their jobs, covering the wave of protests led by the Brotherhood against the military-backed government installed after Morsi was ousted on July 3 by then-army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who is now the president.

The police crackdown on the protests has killed hundreds and put thousands more in prison.

"I swear they will pay for this," Fahmy shouted angrily from the defendants' cage after the sentences were announced. Greste raised his fists in the air.

"They just ruined a family," said Fahmy's brother Adel, who was attending the session. He said they would appeal against the verdict but added that he had little faith in the system. "Everything is corrupt," he said.

The judge also handed 10-year sentences to two British journalists and a Dutch journalist who were not in Egypt and were being tried in absentia. Two defendants among 14 others on trial in the case were acquitted, including the son of Mohammed el-Beltagy, a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood.

British ambassador James Watt, who was in court, said he was "very disappointed" by the verdict. "Freedom of expression is fundamental to any democracy," he said.

The other defendants were mainly students, arrested separately, accused of providing the Al Jazeera journalists with footage along with a variety of other charges, including belonging to the Brotherhood.

Greste's brother Andrew said he was "gutted" and also vowed to appeal.

Australian foreign minister Julia Bishop said: "We are all shocked by this verdict," adding that the government would contact the new Egyptian president and ask him to intervene in the case.

"The Australian government urges the new government of Egypt to reflect what message is being sent to the world," she said. "We are deeply concerned that this verdict is part of a broader attempt to muzzle media freedoms."

Mohammed, the team's producer, received an extra three years because of additional charges of possession of ammunition. Al Jazeera has said that charge was rooted in a spent shell found in his possession - a souvenir he had picked up from protests.

The managing director of Qatar-based Al Jazeera English, Al Anstey, said in a statement that "not a shred of evidence was found to support the extraordinary and false charges against them".

He added: "To have detained them for 177 days is an outrage. To have sentenced them defies logic, sense and any semblance of justice."

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